Five-year-old Gavin Esposito was still smiling after an exam by Dr. Michelle Phillips in which he was understandably uncomfortable with a check of his tonsils. The SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Pediatrics physician also examined his neck for swelling and listened to his heart with a stethoscope.
Gavin stayed silent throughout the ordeal, nodding his head occasionally, as she praised him for being brave and strong. “I’m glad you’re feeling better. Great job, buddy,” Phillips said.
“Thank you,” he said — an unexpected bit of grown-up gratitude from such a young patient.
Gavin has experience at being a patient. The Hannibal, Missouri, resident was born with a complex congenital heart disease and has had five open-heart surgeries at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. He was due to have his tonsils removed there in a few weeks.
SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Pediatrics in Troy is a blessing for Gavin’s family. “The experience has been absolutely fantastic,” said his mom Chas Crane. “Whenever we’ve needed anything, we call and it’s a quick trip here.”
Phillips spends three days a week at the pediatrics center in Troy and one in Warrenton. The practice sees patients through age 21, though generally patients transition after age 18. There’s the usual sick visits, wellness check-ups and vaccinations. There’s also patients with complex health conditions who are followed by a specialist but need to access care nearby.
A significant number of patients come from underserved communities, so the immunization and well-care efforts are especially important.
Phillips previously provided pediatric care to patients in Pike County, but those visits stopped when the Troy practice grew. Many of those Pike County patients now come to the Troy location. “We’re also a resource to those family practitioners and emergency room staff who aren’t as comfortable treating all pediatric issues,” said Phillips, a parishioner of Mary Queen of Peace in Webster Groves.
Helping people in more remote areas is rewarding, she said. “You really feel like you’re making a difference in those lives,” Phillips said.
Telehealth services are one part of that, as well as assistance setting up transportation. SSM Health Cardinal Glennon specialists who are needed for more complex issues are available in the Lake St. Louis area.
For patients who are hesitant to come into a clinic environment or have financial limitations that might prevent them from seeking care, “we’ve attempted an outreach program to connect with those folks,” she said. “We focus on the children and families regardless of their ability to pay or what challenges they may have, coming up with a way to get the child cared for.”
The staff starts each morning with a huddle looking at the day ahead and beginning with a prayer. All other meetings also begin with a prayer or reflection as well. Families experiencing a hardship often ask for prayers, and the staff takes the time to follow through with them.
Zehra’a Harper of Troy, 18, finds comfort and support from the staff where she has been getting help for more than 10 years from nurse practitioner Faith Stroud and now Phillips, who helps her with her medications and finds solutions to issues that arise. She sometimes runs into the staff outside of work, “and they make an effort to make sure I’m doing OK. They really care,” Harper said.
Ellie Knipping, charge nurse at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Pediatrics, said SSM Health’s mission on revealing the healing presence of God is present on a daily basis to families from a wide area. “We get to know the families, watch their babies grow and help them with their daily troubles,” Knipping said.
204 children and counting
Ann Denslow has a bit more experience with SSM Health Glennon Pediatrics in Troy than most people.
That’s because she’s been a foster parent of 204 foster children the past 23 years with her husband, Bruce. She adopted a girl who was a patient of a specialist at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and now has another infant who she brings there.
At SSM Health Glennon Pediatrics in Troy, “The door is always open,” Denslow said. “They never say no. When a child is placed in our home, they have to be seen by a physician within 24 to 48 hours, depending on whether they come out of a hospital or a bad situation. I put in a call there, and I’m in. No questions asked. And if there’s some medical need, I get in with a specialist right away. They just make a couple phone calls.”
Denslow describes the staff as “caring, kind and compassionate.”
She lives in a rural area near the Pike County community of Eolia between Troy and Bowling Green. She attends various Catholic parishes in the nearby communities and said the people who staff SSM Health Glennon Pediatrics have a calling. Dr. Michelle Phillips, for example, has “an innate kindness. Just a compassion you see in her eyes. There’s a warmth, gentleness and respect in that office.”
She’s not retiring anytime soon from foster care and — to her delight — is reassured that the pediatrics staff will be there for her.